As the year draws to an end, I find myself compelled to share my top five reads for the 2015 year (though some of these books were not published this year). Everyone has different tastes and I am not suggesting anyone read these books simply because I enjoyed them. You should read what appeals to you. Personally, these five books did something to me. They stirred up raw emotions. I screamed, I cried, I cursed in fits of rage. I laughed, I snorted, I cooed in moments of joy. I asked questions, I answered questions, I am still asking questions. These books fit in with the criteria which, for me, are the requirements of a great book.
- Story- The book must be engaging. Let’s face it no one wants to read a boring book. From the first line, or at the very least the first chapter, I should be sucked into a book. I’m not requiring a book to have action on every page, that would be unrealistic. But a story should continue to peak my interests and make me curious to find out what happens next.
- Writing- The author should be a good writer. I know that seems silly. Well of course the author should be good, that’s the mark of a good book. NOT TRUE! I am in the process of reading J.K. Rowling’s series under the name Robert Galbraith and while I love the story, I HATE her writing style. She swaps character perspective like we change shoes and it’s just awful. Being a good book does not mean the writer is good. The books on my list succeeded in both categories.
- Research- Every author needs to do their research. Of course, the absolute essential for historical fiction is research but that also applies to other writers as well. Someone who writes about a crime drama needs to know what goes on a modern day court room just as much as a writer about 19th century France needs to be familiar with Napoleonic history. Research makes a story believable. If I can’t believe what I’m reading, how can I ever expect to fully immerse myself in the plot?
- Relevance- The story, plot, and characters all need to be relevant; to me personally, to the world, it doesn’t really matter, but it all must be applicable to life. J.R.R. Tolkien hated allegory and he disliked that his critics tried to directly link his fantasy books with his personal experience in the first world war. What he never denied was that his stories were applicable to life. Even the lessons learned in high fantasy should be relevant to the reader.
- Characters- I need to love (or hate) the characters in a book. The worst feeling a reader can feel is indifference. If we don’t care what happens to a certain character, why write the book at all? I need to want with all my heart for a character to succeed, or feel a sense of tragedy when that character fails. Or I need to detest a character so bad that I jump for joy when they die, or I feel an intense anger when that characters impedes the protagonist in their quest.
NOW FOR THE WINNERS!!
Best Book #5- The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
This book was published in 2013 in Australia but just made its way to the US this year. I loved this book and I posted a full review which can be found here. Not only did I love the characters, but the story was incredibly engaging, believable, and relevant. Kate Forsyth definitely did her research for this intriguing historical fiction based on the woman who captured one of the famous Grimm brothers and would tell him some of the tales which many of us cherish today. Sometimes fact is better than fiction and although this is a work of fiction, I felt a deep connection with this story and I see how it shaped the recording of the fairy tales that have shaped literature for generations.
Best Book #4- Esther by Rebecca Kanner
I promise not all of my choices are historical fiction, but this book surprised me. I do not typically read Christian fiction but I’ve always loved this story and Rebecca Kanner also did her research in creating a fictionalized rendition of the inspiring tale of Esther, who captured the heart of a king and bravely stepped forward to save her family and her people. That message alone is extremely relevant and let’s face it, it would not have made its way into the Bible if it did not have some kind of powerful message to convey. After reading this book, I reread the Book of Esther in the Bible and was surprised to find how similar they were. Kanner does an excellent job of embellishing the already known characters and story and making into something new and exciting.
Best Book #3- Defending Jacob by William Landay
This was not my typical book since I am not into crime dramas (which is funny since my favorite TV show is Law & Order: SVU). This was a well researched book full of characters that I was deeply attached to. This book raised some deep questions. How well does a parent know their child? How far are you willing to go to protect that child? I never saw the final chapter coming but this was a psychological thrill ride from start to finish.
Best Book #2- Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
My official review for this book can be found here but this book had it all for me. A fast-paced plot, engaging characters, gruesome trials endured by the characters, and an emotional struggle for the reading audience. This book was graphic at times but it took the readers into the heart of a horrific crime that split up and ultimately brought back together two completely different sisters. This story had its characters struggle with forgiveness and redemption and it kept you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
Best Book #1- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I know I said I wouldn’t make anyone read anything but in the case of this book, I lied, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK! This was the best book for me in 2015. My official review can be found here but the only word I can use to describe the experience of reading this book is “breathtaking.” This book was incredibly real and believable. The lessons learned by the characters can and should be headed by every person of every generation and of every culture. The story of war is one that unfortunately repeats itself throughout history. This is my biggest must read book of the year.
My runners up (those who maybe hit 4/5 of my criteria and were still very good) would probably be:
–The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
–All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
–The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
–The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
–The Sound of Glass by Karen White
Congratulations to all the books read and/or published this year, including those dubbed by Goodreaders as the best! Happy reading in 2016!